TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A measure that would expand 2022′s controversial Parental Rights in Education law is primed for consideration by the full Florida Senate.
The proposal (SB 1320) would broaden the 2022 law’s prohibition on instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
The Republican-controlled Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday approved the measure, sending it to the full Senate despite heavy opposition from Democrats and other critics. The House already passed a similar bill, and Thursday’s committee vote moved the issues one step closer to going to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for the LGBTQ-advocacy group Equality Florida, described the bill as “dehumanizing” to LGBTQ youths.
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“What makes my family any more of a sensitive topic that can’t be discussed in schools than any of yours?” Maurer asked members of the Senate panel.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat, also criticized the bill and referred to an ongoing feud between DeSantis and the Walt Disney Company that was spurred by the company’s opposition to the 2022 law,
“Fighting Disney and big corporations — that’s punching up. They can handle themselves. But what we’re doing is punching down. We’re punching down on individuals who can’t fend and fight for themselves,” Jones said.
But Senate bill sponsor Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, defended the measure.
“We need to let kids be kids, and our laws need to set appropriate boundaries that respect the rights and responsibilities of parents. The decision about when and if certain topics should be introduced to children belongs to parents, who should not have to worry that their students are receiving classroom instruction on topics and materials that parents feel are not age-appropriate, or for that matter are not appropriate at all,” Yarborough said.
Another controversial part of the bill would restrict the way that teachers and students could use their preferred pronouns in schools.
Under the bill, teachers and other school employees would be barred from telling students their preferred pronouns “if such personal title or pronouns do not correspond to his or her sex.” Students also could not be asked about their preferred pronouns.
Members of the Senate panel rejected a proposed change by Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, that sought to put decisions about pronoun use in parents’ hands. Berman proposed requiring that school employees refer to students by their preferred pronouns unless parents notified principals in writing that different pronouns should be used.
Berman, who said the bill “carries the very real risk of outing transgender children in front of their peers,” argued that rejecting her proposal would be a denial of parents’ rights.
“If we don’t accept this amendment, we’re contradicting laws that we already passed. Specifically, the Parental Rights in Education law that recognizes parents’ fundamental right to direct the care, education and upbringing of their child,” Berman said.
But Yarborough pushed back, saying the bill would allow for situations where decisions on pronoun use would be left to teachers’ discretion.
“If a student and a parent together provide a pronoun to the teacher, I think the question on the table is, could the teacher use the pronoun? And if doing so would not violate the teacher’s personal convictions, then they can do that,” Yarborough said.
The measure also would build on another measure passed by the Legislature last year that increased scrutiny of school library books and instructional materials.
For example, the bill seeks to make it easier for people to file complaints by making objection forms “easy to read and understand” and available on school district websites.
The bill also spells out that in disputes based on claims that materials contain pornography or “describes sexual conduct,” such materials would have to be “unavailable to students until the objection is resolved.”
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